Wouldn’t the Vatican look and feel incomplete without its famous Swiss Guard? The smartly dressed guards sporting their bright yellow, red and blue striped uniforms are a sight to behold. They follow the Pope everywhere he goes and are ready to give their lives to protect the Pontiff. Every year, on May 6th, the Swiss Guard take their oath of office. Known to be one of the most disciplined, loyal, dedicated and efficient guard forces in the world, there are none better than these committed young men to guard the Pope.

Why May 6th?

The swearing-in ceremony is conducted on May 6th in commemoration of the Sack of Rome, one of the most tragic days in the history of the Vatican when 147 innocent followers of the Church were massacred. The mesmerizing ceremony, conducted inside the St. Damaso courtyard, is a sight to behold and is still performed following centuries-old traditions.

Swiss Guard on Duty

Swiss Guard on Duty in St. Peter's Square

The Swearing in Ceremony

On the day of the swearing in ceremony, St. Damaso courtyard comes alive with electric energy and patriotic zeal. The ceremony is conducted in the presence of military representatives, political figures and religious personalities. Officials from the Swiss Confederation are present for the ceremony. Hundreds of admirers, family members and friends of the new recruits throng the courtyard, their faces flush with pride.

The band, which is definitely one of the best in the world, drums out traditional tunes, as the proud recruits walk in full uniform to take their oath. The Oath is read by the order's chaplain. As each name is called out, the recruit marches smartly to the dais, takes his oath and commits his life to the service of the Church.

How It All Began

The Swiss Guard have been known for their valor and dedication since the late 15th century. Back then, there were guard units at several European courts, palaces and households. They also served in various armies including those of France, Spain and Naples.

The famous Swiss mercenary regiments have been an integral part of the armies of various European countries including Spain, Naples and France. These young men are known for their revolutionary battle tricks and strategies. One of the first structured Swiss troops was developed by the Landsknechte in the 16th century.

Gradually, as countries started strengthening their own armies, the Swiss Guard started dying out. Divine providence saved them. Founded in 1506, the Papal Swiss Guard is currently the only existing Swiss Guard in the world.

Over the years, the Swiss Guard has efficiently guarded the Pope and affirmed their reputation as one of the best guard forces in the world. The swearing-in ceremony is a must-see!

Check out City Wonders' full list of Vatican Tours and get a close up look at the Swiss Guard with Papal Audience tickets.